How to watch the House stimulus vote

Despite a few last-minute changes by President Obama and House Democrats, Republicans will almost certainly hold ranks in opposing it an economic stimulus bill.

By Mike Madden

Published January 28, 2009 10:09PM (EST)

Yes, House Democrats pulled a few projects out of H.R. 1, the massive economic stimulus bill, ahead of today's expected vote. Yes, part of the goal there was to appease Republican grumbling about the spending in the bill. But no, don't expect that to change the outcome of the vote.

That's in part because Republicans will have a vote on their own alternative stimulus bill, which relies almost entirely on tax cuts. Before the Democratic version passes, GOP lawmakers will be able to vote for their version, meaning every single member of the House will be able -- should they want to -- to vote "yes" on some version of an economic stimulus bill. (Yes, this means Republicans can say they voted for it before they voted against it.) Each side had an equal number of chances to propose amendments to the Democratic bill before the final vote, and -- not surprisingly -- most of the Republican ones were defeated. There will also be a parliamentary maneuver known as a motion to recommit, which will give Republicans yet another chance to lose a pro forma vote before they lose the actual one on the legislation.

The message coming out of the House GOP today is that they would have loved to heed President Obama's request for bipartisanship, and vote for the legislation, but the mean House Democrats just wouldn't let them, because they wouldn't write a reasonable bill -- the definition that House Republicans use for "reasonable" being, in this case, one that relies heavily on tax cuts, like the House Republican plan. Look for Democrats to say the Republicans were being obstructionist, and look for Republicans to keep lambasting the way Democrats shut them out of the process, well after the vote.

Ironically, the only thing the House GOP likes less than the spending in the bill is... its tax cuts. About a third of the $275 billion of tax cuts in the bill are what's known as refundable tax credits, which count against taxpayers' IRS bill even if they don't have any income taxes due. To the GOP, that makes them welfare, not a tax cut. Evidently, like beauty, tax cuts are in the eye of the beholder.

Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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